To have a successful business it is essential you understand your customers’ buying needs and preferences and it is important to realise that the buying patterns and drivers of today are not the same as they were a decade ago. The needs of consumers have changed and you must update what you sell and how you sell it to ensure you continue to appeal to customers.
Understanding Your Customers
Experts in sales will tell you there is a thing called a buying cycle or a purchase funnel. This is a theory concerned with the thought processes and actions that any consumer takes when making a purchase. This theory has four stages: awareness, interest, desire and action. While this model has served retailers well in the past, it is now believed that the average consumer passes through several more stages before deciding to make a purchase and you need to be aware of these for your business to perform successfully.
Let us look at the four main stages. Awareness: this is the point at which your customer discovers he has a specific need that must be addressed and he decides to take action. He then moves on to the interest stage, where he begins to research possible solutions to his need. Often, this will involve reviews of products by several companies until he is able to whittle the options down to a short list and finally to one product. The next stage is the desire to own the object and he will find a seller that ticks most of his purchasing boxes. Then he will take action, buying the product and using it.
Technology has made this process more complicated, not for the buyer but for the seller. A buyer will use the internet to research a product thoroughly, explore alternatives, compare prices and factor in other elements such as customer service, delivery costs and returns procedures before actually making a decision to buy. Before the internet, a consumer was often only able to research in his local community or by making several telephone calls. Now, a consumer can stand in a shop, take out his smartphone and compare the product before him with online marketplaces. He or she will probably find that the product being looked at in the shop is cheaper online and so makes a decision to buy it from the online retailer and wait for delivery rather than spend more in the shop and walk away with the item. It could also be that there is a cheaper alternative to the product, for example, synthetic diamonds, such as those manufactured by Jatin Mehta and his company Gemesis, as opposed to real diamonds. Mr Mehta understands that certain people desire diamonds but cannot afford the hefty price tag that comes with the real thing. The company’s high quality synthetic diamonds possess the same appearance as those diamonds dug out of the earth, but are much more affordable.
In this example, price is obviously the main driver, but it is important to understand that value for money is not all your customer is looking for. This is where knowing what your customer is looking for is so very important. To know your customer, you should carry out market research, identifying demographics in terms of age ranges, social status, disposable income etc. and discovering what is important to them. For example, it could be a brand identity, it could be the ethics of the company or it could be excellent after sales service, not just price.
Such research should also show you how best to engage with your customers. For certain age groups, social media will undoubtedly be the most successful channel, but for those groups who are less likely to use technology, you may have to reach them through more traditional avenues, such as print advertising. Whichever channels you use, ensure that the language you employ is appropriate to the specific demographic, i.e. conversational with teens and thirty-somethings and more formal with mature customers. You can also encourage customer loyalty by using social media to offer discounts to followers, as many shops, from clothing shops to beauty retailers, do.
As already discussed, technology has changed the way customers shop, so it is vital that you keep up with changes in this area. A few years ago, it was understood that few people made purchases via a mobile device and no one bothered to pursue this. Now, consumers are increasingly making purchases via mobile tech, so always innovate when it comes to your marketing and sales channels, using data and tools to show current trends.
Knowing who is interested in buying your products or services is key to running a successful business. Keep up with current trends, continue to be innovative in your approaches and tailor your message according to your audience to ensure continued sales.